U.S. courts have clearly indicated that people have a right to simply resign from a church and that a person becomes a NON-member the moment he or she submits a formal resignation to a church. According to the courts, after the church receives a resignation, church leaders must no longer treat the person as if he or she were still a member. This means that church representatives should not call or visit the person, they should not tell the former member that they have to come in for an interview and they DEFINITELY shouldn't be attempting to initiate any 'disciplinary actions' against a person who is no longer a member of their church.
There is a book called the Church Handbook of Instructions (CHI), which is basically an instruction manual for bishops, stake presidents and branch presidents of the church. Members of the church are not allowed to own copies of the handbook and many are not even aware of its existence. The book is copyrighted by the church, so we will quote only small portions of it, under fair use of copyright.
Below are short excerpts from what the 1998 version of the CHI says about resignations, which the church insists on calling 'name removal' even though they never 'remove' anyone's name from the records. We include our comments or explanations of your rights and the facts according to U.S. case law.
CHI: "An adult member who wishes to have his or her name removed from the records must send the bishop a written, signed request (not a form letter)."
FACT: You may send your letter to any legal representative of the church, including the member records office in Salt Lake. You may use a form letter if you like. As long as it contains your name, address, birth date and signature, it is a legal resignation. It can even be a simple handwritten note. There are several reasons why we recommend you send your letter to Member Records, especially if you live in the U.S.A. See Instructions and The Process.
CHI:"The bishop makes sure that a member who requests name removal understands the consequences: it cancels the effects of baptism and confirmation, withdraws the priesthood held by a male member, and revokes temple blessings. The bishop also explains that a person can be readmitted to the Church by baptism only after a thorough interview."
FACT: If you resign using the sample letter on this website, you have let them know that you are aware of the so-called 'consequences' of your resignation.
CHI: "If the bishop is satisfied that the member understands these consequences and is not likely to be dissuaded, he completes a Report of Administrative Action form and forwards it to the stake president. The bishop forwards the member's written request and membership record with the form."
FACT: As you can see, they waste a lot of time on each resignation. They could handle this much more efficiently in member records without involving anyone else, but they choose to make it a lengthy and time-consuming process. This is probably because they want to discourage people from resigning.
CHI: (This is a paraphrase of the next paragraph): If the members of the Stake Presidency agree to 'honor' the letter of resignation, they tell the bishop to send a letter to the former member, outlining the consequences and letting the former member know that he or she will have 30 days to change his or her mind.
FACT: If you used the sample letter on this website, you've told them that you want them to handle your resignation immediately, without any waiting periods. A few bishops and stake presidents respect your rights enough to waive the waiting period and just process your resignation. Most of them, however, follow the instructions in the CHI, so your letter sits for 30 days (or longer) in the Stake President's office.
CHI: (Paraphrasing again): If the Stake President doesn't hear from the former member, after the thirty days have passed he will send all the paperwork in to Member Records in Salt Lake.
FACT: If you've used the sample letter on this site, when Member Records gets the paperwork from the Stake President, they will indicate in the records that you are no longer a member and they will send you a letter of confirmation. (It's a two-sentence form letter.).
We have received reports that some local church leaders have tried to enforce disciplinary action on members who try to resign from the church. In fact, in the instructions on the 'Form of Administrative Action' (the document that a bishop uses to process your resignation), it says:
Form of Administrative Action: "...if a priesthood leader has evidence of transgression that warrants convening a disciplinary council, he should not act on the request until church discipline has been imposed or he has concluded that no disciplinary council will be held. Name removal should not be used as a substitute for Church discipline. (see Church Handbook of Instructions Book 1, 130)" [The Church Handbook says the same thing in a little different wording.]
WRONG! In other words, the church thinks they can excommunicate you rather than honoring your resignation. This is simply not true and you can sue them if they go ahead with 'church discipline' AFTER you have already resigned from the church. One woman in Oklahoma sued and won a large award when her minister 'excommunicated' her after she handed him a letter of resignation. She won a large award because it was announced in two congregations that she had been excommunicated for 'fornication'. See the Legal Precedent section of this website. A member can resign even AFTER the church starts the process of 'excommunicating' or 'disciplining' them, even if the member has been blatantly 'transgressing'. It doesn't matter what the reason is for the 'discipline', the church must simply halt the process when the member hands in a resignation. Members don't often know their rights, so the church sometimes tries to get away with 'excommunicating' someone who has already resigned. Bishops and Stake Presidents aren't informed about the court precedents and they will do as they've been instructed, unaware that they are violating a person's right to resign.
One more little section of the Church Handbook of Instructions is pertinent here. It says if a member threatens to take legal action, the bishop should contact the church legal department. So, if the bishop or stake president threatens you with 'excommunication' or 'disciplinary action', or if they say they won't honor your resignation for any reason, you could tell them you are going to take legal action. Or solve the situation by calling Member Records in Salt Lake. They will usually phone the stake president or Bishop to get them to honor your resignation. You're lucky, you've found this site and you know your rights. Member Records: 1 (800) 453-3860, ext 22053 or 1 (801) 240-2053.